So Goes the Psoas

psoas muscleThe Psoas (“so-az”) muscle helps flex the hip and stabilize the spine and is involved in everyday activities like walking and running. One of the iliopsoas group of muscles (along with the iliacus muscles), it is also is one of the most targeted muscles in discussions of lower back pain.

Your psoas major (so-az) muscles (you have one on each side of your spine) connect the lower portion of your back to the top of your thighs. Its major function is to stabilize the back and it’s the strongest and biggest player in a group of muscles called hip flexors that help flex your hips. Lay down and bring your knees to your chest and you’ll experience the psoas in action.

The psoas originates from the lumbar vertebrae and forms a strip of muscle about as big as your wrist along each side of the spine. It proceeds down and forward, crossing the outer edge of each pubis, then moves back again to attach on a bony prominence of the inner upper posterior femur (thigh bone) called the lesser trochanter.

Crossing your legs, one leg over the other while seated, can shorten the psoas on the top leg and can contribute to pain in hip and back.

The biggest threat to the psoas is sitting still too long, especially if you have poor posture while sitting. When you sit too long and then stand up, the rounded, shortened and tight psoas muscle pulls your back, making you feel pain and more prone to lower back injury. Because the psoas is so involved in stability, problems with hip flexors like the psoas also mean you could end up with knee issues.

When one side of the psoas is tight/short, the same side of the pelvis is restricted in its ability to move forward (and allow its other side to move backward). Walking is more free on one side than the other, causing an altered walking pattern.

Stretching and massage for the psoas

There are several ways to stretch the psoas, including yoga poses (Navasana, Virabhadrasana I, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana). You can also try a classic “runner’s stretch” (front, extending lunge), or a table stretch (stand beside a flat surface, like a table or chair, surface slightly lower than hip level. Lift one leg up onto a table or chair behind you, then sink into the stretch, with your hips square, until you feel a stretch along the front of your hip.)

Another, very effective way of releasing tension in your psoas is putting yourself in the capable hands of a qualified massage therapist. The therapist will perform purposeful stretches that target the hard-to-reach psoas. They’ll use both active and passive techniques to put hip flexors through their motions and coach you on self-care. A good massage therapist will also work other hip flexors and other muscles in the region, which may actually be a greater cause to aches and pain than the much ballyhooed psoas.